3 open source desktop publishing tools for Linux

3 open source alternatives to Microsoft Publisher

3 open source desktop publishing tools
Image by : 

opensource.com

How do you design for print?

A few weeks ago, I confessed that I still hadn't fully moved to the paperless utopia I had imagined I would be living in by this point.

As I've thought through it more, it's the long tail of paper that's holding me back. Sure, almost all of my communications are electronic these days, and my scanner makes quick work of almost everything that comes to me in a dead tree format.

But as I look around my home office and wonder why there are still stacks of paper here and there, I realize there are some things that just make more sense to have physical copies of, at least for some part of their existence. I see calendars and brochures and instruction guides. I see posters from events, and even a piece of origami. While you could argue that some of these items could be obsoleted by their digital equivalents, they haven't been, and digitizing them myself is more work than the payoff would justify.

There's another part of the equation, too. Just because I may prefer a digital experience for consuming information, doesn't mean everyone I interact with shares that preferences. Considering the needs of your audience is critical to anyone with a message to convey, and in a world crowded with so many distractions competing to receive the attention of your readers, you have an obligation to meet them more than halfway if you expect your message to be heard.

And so despite so many options existing for distributing your message electronically, the need for for printed collateral isn't going away any time soon. Whether you're producing a button or a pamphlet or a bumper sticker, you need an effective way to lay out the design and blend your text with your images and other brand assets.

The world of proprietary software has brought us many tools for designing layouts, including QuarkXpress and Adobe InDesign among the better known. And Microsoft Publisher still may take the prize, at least for small businesses and individuals, as one of the most-used publishing platforms, owing to its low cost and ease of use to people already familiar with the Microsoft Office suite. Many a church bulletin and nonprofit fundraising letter have been put together in Publisher, or even Word.

But you don't need a proprietary tool to design a great layout. Whether you're using Linux, or still stuck on Windows or Mac OS X, there are great free and open source options. So let's look at some open source alternatives to Microsoft Publisher for designing your next print layout.

Scribus

Scribus is the gold standard when it comes to open source desktop publishing. With over a decade of active development, you'll find pretty much all of the features a basic user would expect inside. It can import from a wide variety of formats, and a user-friendly interface makes it a great choice for beginners. The large user community also means that there are many great resources out there for those who need additional help, from books to forums to many templates available for download to fit almost any need.

LibreOffice

Don't want to learn a new program? LibreOffice provides excellent design capabilities across several of its components. While Writer can provide basic layouts, Draw expands the capability even further and is probably the best choice for semi-complex layouts like newsletters or brochures. I even managed to use Impress to produce a scientific poster for a class project in grad school, using a template originally designed for PowerPoint which imported just fine.

Markup

The third option, and, hear me out, is to use a markup language. No, it's not as user friendly. No, it's not always WYSIWYG. But if you're already familiar with a markup language, why not make use of that skill? And I don't just mean LaTeX—for many projects, HTML and CSS will work just fine, and let you use your existing tools, whether a text editor or a more full-featured tool just for working with web pages, and you can use one of many tools for converting to a print-ready format like PDF. Maybe it's an alternative to a professional design application, but it works fine for many purposes.

But why use a markup language for print design? A few reasons. One, it's plain text, so you can version it in git to track all of your changes and use many different tools on the files directly, even from the command line. Two, it can reduce your production time if you're creating the same documents for web and for print. Three, and this is what I like most about markup languages, they're human-readable. I get what I expect when I write code.


Do you still produce layouts for printed collateral? What program do you use? Is it one from this list, or do you use something else, perhaps a tool more optimized for graphics editing like GIMP or Inkscape, or another choice entirely? Let us know in the comments below.

10 Comments

davenz

While LibreOffice is a powerful and capable office productivity suites, which I whole-heartedly recommend compared to Microsoft Office, the fact remains that LibreOffice Draw is missing two or three basic and critical functions one would expect of a DTP app going head-to-head with Publisher. Perhaps most remarkably, Draw cannot automatically wrap text around objects (as you would expect, and as is capable in Writer, Publisher, and Scribus).

https://bugs.documentfoundation.org/show_bug.cgi?id=99525

Until this is rectified it's impossible to recommend as a Publisher replacement. What is also curious is the comment under the meta bug report that Draw's focus is on diagramming features, which is somewhat at odds with the marketing.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
-1
Don Watkins

I've experimented with Scribus but never produced anything with it. The most recent brochure i designed with an Apple product. I've been using OpenOffice and now LibreOffice for years and now I'll give them a try for DTP. Thanks for giving me food for thought.

Vote up!
2
Vote down!
0
Hans Bezemer

LyX is all I need.

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
macharyas

As a ransom-paying Adobe subscriber, I have been working on my Open Source Graphic Designer skills by using Scribus, GIMP, Inkscape and Blender. I have also downloaded the .iso for Ubuntu Studio to to tie it all in together using Ubuntu 16.04. I've been writing about my progress at: http://www.macharyas.com/open-source-graphics/ So far, I'm liking it and will (hopefully) cancel Adobe in November so I have more money for beer. Thank you.

Vote up!
2
Vote down!
0
designmark

I think a lot of us would admit we're still not at the point where we can ditch printers altogether.

I'm trying though: I've gone as far as digitising my CV and building a semi-interactive HTML page (responsive, of course) for it, which serves as a code demo as well as a quick-look resource for when I make a new contact. But I felt compelled to create a downloadable version as well because I know recruiters like to peruse them in hard-copy format, for which I designed in Inkscape and merged the pages into a final PDF.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
sethkenlon

I've used Scribus for ads and articles in several publications, and it's easily as capable as any of the proprietary offerings out there.

I also would not discount Inkscape as a layout tool. It's not necessarily the "right" tool for the job by the traditional art school standards, but enough people use their illustration programme to cheat quick layouts that I think it still counts for something.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
Sisouvan

publishing is the main tool i use for guideline making

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
jchakrak

Great article, thanks Jason. We use LibeOffice for most things but still Illustrator for print-ready copy. Gimp is beginning to take over from Photoshop for graphics simply because of its speed - Photoshop takes an age to even open on our older machines, which also have to run Windows - not the nimble, quick Ubuntu I love. We'll have a look at your recommendations - Scribus might well free us from Adobe and proprietary software all together!

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
jimmysjolund

Earlier this year I made the transition to do all text work in Markdown and/or LaTeX. Great stuff!

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
dragonbite

MS Publisher is one of those "thorns in my side" as my wife uses it frequently and I have not found an alternative that provides an easy to use interface with the same positioning and text-flow capabilities.

LibreOffice Writer doesn't handle the placement and interaction of text and pictures very well. I find I nudge something just that little too far and everything on the screen scatters! Maybe it's gotten better.

I actually think LibreOffice Draw is better, but some formatting is not intuitive.

Scribus I haven't used in a long time but when I last used it, it seemed very basic and non-intuitive.

When I sat my wife down in front of Publisher on my work laptop she not only finished the project, but she started exploring and playing with the program. She is an artist and not interested in computers (like most of us here) so this was significant.

Now for image manipulation I use Gimp and all of the computers, Windows and Linux, have Gimp installed so I can help them out on any of the systems without adjusting my thinking for different programs (or "now how do THEY do this?..").

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0